Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)

On January 28, 1948, an airplane crashed in Los Gatos Canyon in Fresno County, killing 32 people on board, including 28 Mexican agricultural workers being deported by the U.S. Immigration Service. Witnesses to the accident saw at least nine people leap to their deaths. Twelve of the farm workers were never identified.

Inspired by this incident, and more so by the radio and newspaper coverage following the accident, Woody Guthrie wrote the poem/song “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” Guthrie was disturbed by the fact that the coverage of the event on the news did not mention the victims’ names (except for the flight crew) and instead referred to them merely as deportees.

10 years after Guthrie wrote this poem, a school teacher named Martin Hoffman put it to music. Subsequently, it has been played by many artists including the country group The Highwaymen, which includes Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.

I never heard this song until tonight and it was sung by a Canadian band named Ox - and they do a really great job with this song. In fact, it struck me so much that I bothered researching this history for you. I then uploaded the song to YouSendIt for you, get it here. Finally, the original Woody Guthrie lyrics:

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

You can buy Ox's album Dust Bowl Revival at Amazon.

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